Papers of Professor James Pillans (1778-1864)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-343
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      3 letters, 1 typescript.
  • Location
      Dc.6.111, f.219; Dc.3.87/23; Dk.6.19/4; Dk.3.8/14

Scope and Content

The papers consist of correspondence with some unnamed correspondents and others including W. Young, Professor R. Jameson, Sir Robert Peel, the Duke of Montrose, Rev. A. Mclaren, Professor Henderson, and Dr. T. Chalmers.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Pillans was born in Edinburgh in April 1778. He was educated at the Royal High School in Edinburgh and then he studied at Edinburgh University, graduating in January 1801 with degree of M.A. On graduation he acted as tutor to Thomas Francis Kennedy (1788-1879) at Dunure, Ayrshire, then to a family in Northumberland, before going to Eton as a private tutor. In 1809 he submitted himself as a candidate for the post of Rector at the High School in Edinburgh. He was successful and took up the post in January 1810. At this time the school was sited in Infirmary Street, and as Rector he introduced the monitorial system, and developed the teaching of Greek, classical geography, and Latin verse composition. In 1820, Pillans was elected to the Chair of Humanity and Laws (or Latin, or Roman literature) at Edinburgh University. He was also President of the Watt Institution and School of Art (later to become the Heriot Watt College and then Heriot Watt University). Pillans acquainted himself with state of education across Scotland and embarked on tours of Germany, France, Switzerland and Ireland, looking at educational systems there. He was an advocate of compulsory education, and in 1834 he gave evidence to a House of Commons committee on education. His publications include Letters on the principles of elementary teaching (1827), Outlines of geography (1847), The rationale of discipline (1852), and Contributions to the cause of education (1856). Professor James Pillans resigned his Chair in 1863 and he died at his home in Inverleith Row on 27 March 1864.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol.15. Owens-Pockrich. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1909.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Related Material

The local Indexes show reference to the Carson and Pillans Class Club at Gen. 164-168, and in the Laing Collection at La.II.75; La.II.152; La.IV.17 (check the Indexes for more details). Also material among the Jameson Correspondence atGen. 1999/1/132.